So as Dogen said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is not true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience of making past time present. There we have poetry, and there we have human life.”
- Shunryu Suzuki
A number of years ago I read a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hakwkins, who is the inventor of the palm pilot among other things, and who turns out to be an avid amateur neuroscientist. The theory in his book which interested me most was that your neocortex (the layers of membrane that sit around your brain) are memory storage units and what you actually see when you use your eyes is a memory of what was there, or what you have seen before. Only if something drastic changes does your brain have to use some energy to look again.
This sounded like an interesting theory; how could your brain, something much slower than a modern computer chip in terms of processing electrical inputs, be able to do so many complex things so quickly? It’s powerful not to have to think every time you do something. Not having to think about the size, shape and feel of a cup reduces the amount of power required from your brain to pick it up. Once again, an elegant solution by your body and brain.
A quote from On Intelligence :
” Imagine you are about to have dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant and you want to wash your hands. Even though you have never been in this building before, your brain predicts that there will be a restroom somewhere in the restaurant with a basin suitable for hand washing. How dies know this? … You look for expected patterns that let you find the restroom quickly. This kind of behavior is a creative act; it is predicting the future by analogy to the past. We don’t normally think of this as being creative, but it very much is”
Recently I noticed a phenomenon in my own life which made this theory really come to life. I am a new parent, and one of the things that new parents do on a regular basis is to check that their precious new baby is still breathing.
This might sound simple : just look at the baby and see if his chest is moving up and down, right? Wrong. I found when I did this that at a glance I could not see any movement (worrying) but if I looked again much more closely engaging my brain more completely I could pick up the slight movements which showed that my new baby was indeed breathing. Very strange, until I thought of Jeff Hawkins’ theory. What was I really seeing when I glanced, just a memory? I think so, my brain was giving me the minimal amount of information to tell me that my baby still exsists and is sleeping on the bed but not wanting to use up more energy it skimmed over the vital information of the small movements of his chest which show me that he is breathing.
I really enjoy when theory comes into practice: when you see an idea that seems very abstract realize itself in reality. The next time you look at something, look again. There might be a whole world of detail you are missing.
Read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
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This fall, we’ve been developing an exciting new collaborative curatorial project, working with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and Ruth Sergel. In honor of the upcoming centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 2011, we’ve developed and designed the Triangle Fire Open Archive, a curated online archive of community-created objects and stories. We’re encouraging people to submit objects culled from personal & public collections, and to use these objects to tell their own stories relating to the history of the Fire, or to the labor, immigration and gendered issues of the Fire that are still critical and resonant today.
Through the collaborative curation of the Open Archive, we’ll be able to see objects, and read narratives, never before seen together.
On Monday December 13, we had our first evening of collecting objects, working with Lucy Oakley and Marci Reaven’s class at NYU, who have recently curated the soon-to-open Grey Art Gallery exhibition, “Art/Memory/Place: Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”.
The students did a phenomenal job of writing new reflections on their favorite objects they’ve found in researching the Triangle Fire – some drawn from public collections (as above, a portion of an image from the Kheel Center), and some drawn from their own family albums. Many contributed these objects (in digital form) to the Open Archive, and we’re thrilled to have started down the path building the Triangle Fire Open Archive with them.
We look forward to many more people getting involved, contributing objects, and telling stories through the Open Archive in the months to come – either through our online tool or at our open public events, when we’ll help photograph and digitize people’s objects.
All the digital material collected will be donated and archived by the Kheel Center which hosts the preeminent website on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The site will go live in January of 2011 – we’ll keep you posted!
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